Amazon’s new Echo Show 10 moves to look at you

Technology

Amazon has just announced the latest iteration of its flagship smart display, the new Echo Show 10. The new model has a number of new changes and updates from the prior generation, but the one that matters the most is this: it moves.

Instead of being fixed in one position, as with every prior Echo Show model, the new Echo Show 10’s display is perched on a motorized base that swivels around automatically whenever you interact with the device. By using a blend of computer vision technology and echolocation (pun not intended), the Echo Show 10 can determine where you are in a room and swivel itself around to face you so you can always get a good view of the screen.

In addition, the Echo Show 10 utilizes its motorized base and its digital panning and zooming on new 13-megapixel camera to keep you in the frame when on video calls. It’s similar to how Facebook’s Portal autoframes your face, but Amazon’s device has the added ability to pan the screen itself and doesn’t just have to rely on digital zoom and panning. The Echo Show 10’s movement is also reminiscent of the ill-fated Jibo home robot, which spun around similarly to face you whenever it detected a person.

Unlike the Jibo, the Echo Show 10 isn’t mimicking the personality of a robot. Even though it moves, it’s fundamentally still an Echo, with Alexa as its digital assistant and the usual features on its display.

In an exclusive interview ahead of today’s announcement, Miriam Daniel, Amazon’s vice president of Alexa and Echo devices, said that smart displays are used most in a kitchen and during busy times of day, such as the morning or evening. By allowing the screen to follow you as you move around preparing meals, get ready for the day, do the dishes, or whatever else you’re doing in the kitchen, you don’t have to keep going back to see what’s on the display; it’s just always there in view. Daniel notes it’s particularly helpful when using the Show to display a recipe while cooking.

The Echo Show 10 uses computer vision to determine where a person is in a room and then combines that with audio-based location when you say “Alexa.” The processing is an extension of the audio-based locating that Echo devices already do (the bright point on the blue ring that lights up when say Alexa is where the device thinks you are) and is all done locally on the device.

Amazon says it uses an image to create data points that represent shapes, edges, and general coloring, and then the image is immediately discarded. Unlike Google’s Nest Hub Max, which has the ability to identify a specific person using its camera, the Show 10 does not use face recognition and cannot tell who you are, just that a person is somewhere in its view.

The device will only move when you interact with it, whether that is by saying “Alexa,” touching the screen, or watching a video. Unlike the Jibo, the Echo Show will not turn and greet you when you enter the room. Daniel does note that when you are interacting with the Show, the goal is to have it move like a person would when you’re having a conversation, and Amazon studied body language and natural movements to program its motions. You can disable the motion entirely by closing the built-in camera shutter, in the Alexa app, or by saying “Alexa, turn off motion.”

Amazon says the brushless motor inside the base is completely silent and is rated to last “for the lifetime of the device.” The company also says the Show 10 was built with “sustainable materials,” which includes 100 percent post-consumer-recycled fabric, 100 percent recycled die-cast aluminum, and 30 percent post-consumer-recycled plastics. It’s also one of the first devices to receive Amazon’s own “Climate Pledge Friendly” badge.

The Show 10’s 10-inch display is similar to the prior model’s, with an “HD” resolution. In addition to the automatic swivel, you can manually tilt the screen to adjust its position, which wasn’t possible on the older version. The speaker system is also similar — two side-firing tweeters plus a woofer — but since the device can point itself toward you, its sound is better optimized. It also gains the automatic room-tuning features first debuted on the Echo Studio. But the Show 10 does not support 3D audio, and the Studio remains as the top Echo device for audio quality.

Inside the base is all of the wireless radios and processors, including Amazon’s new AZ1 chip that it co-developed with MediaTek. The company says it’s “purpose-built for accelerating machine learning applications” and allows the Echo Show 10 and other Echo devices to do their voice processing “on the edge” or locally, without having to rely on a cloud computer. (The voice commands are still sent to Amazon’s cloud so you can view them in the app and delete them.) This allows the Echo device to respond faster saving “hundreds of milliseconds” in response time.

Other hardware features include radios for Zigbee, Bluetooth LE, and Amazon’s upcoming Sidewalk network that will let the Show 10 control smart home devices directly and act as a Sidewalk hub. It also has the ability to automatically provision and on-board new Sidewalk devices.

To complement the Echo Show 10’s ability to move and auto frame, Amazon is adding a number of new software features, including group calling with Alexa, Zoom, and Amazon Chime. The Show 10 will support the Alexa Guard security function when you’re not home and will periodically pan the room to check for human shapes. If it detects a person when one shouldn’t be there, it will send an alert to your phone. You can also “drop in” using the Alexa app or other Echo Show devices and pan the screen around manually.

Additionally, Amazon is announcing that Netflix will finally be available on its smart displays, joining Hulu and Prime Video. You’ll be able to search for and pull up Netflix shows or movies using your voice and watch them on the Echo Show 10’s screen. The screen will also move to point itself at you as you move around a room when a video is playing so you can always see what’s on the screen.

Amazon says it has an API that developers can tap into to integrate the Echo Show 10’s movement into their Alexa Skills (Amazon’s version of “apps”). Daniel said that a trivia game skill could make the Show 10 shake side to side when you get a question incorrect, or perhaps it can be programmed to dance or make other motions. But since the motorized action is limited to a swivel, there realistically won’t be a ton developers can do with it.

Lastly, the Echo Show 10 features a new low power mode that will attempt to conserve energy when it’s not being actively interacted with or used, such as overnight. No audio is sent to the cloud when the device is in low power mode, and it will automatically return to its normal state when you interact with it. If you are using Alexa Guard with the Show 10, this will prevent it from going into the low power state, however.

My colleague Chaim Gartenberg recently asked what could Amazon do to make people upgrade an Echo device at this point, now that we are multiple generations into the product line and the experience is already quite good. It appears that Amazon’s answer to that question is “make the screen move,” which admittedly isn’t the expected response. But it’s a very interesting approach, and I’m curious to see how well it works in practice once I’m able to test the new Echo Show 10 first-hand.

Amazon is pricing the new Echo Show 10 at $249.99, a slight increase over the prior, stationary model’s $230 price. But since the company loves to put Echo devices on sale as much as it loves Alexa, I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be opportunities to get the new Echo Show 10 for much less than its sticker price. You’ll be able to place preorders for the Show 10 in white or black starting today, with shipments expected before the holidays.